The darkness from the Pacific North West U.S.A. returns in excellent form
Portland, Oregon (U.S.A.) isn't really the place you'd expect to find a Scandinavian black metal influenced metal band. But sure enough, Agalloch are just that. But black metal is only one ingredient in the musical stew, which also includes adequate helpings of post rock, gothic doom and atmospheric, semi-industrial soundscapes as well. After two full length albums and a handful of EPs along the way, Agalloch, who are vocalist/guitarist John Haughm, guitarist Don Anderson, bassist Jason William Walton and drummer Chris Green, have returned with their first full length in four years, title Ashes Against The Grain.
The soft, haunting, atmospheric intro to Limbs soon develops into a slow, behemoth sounding wall of distortion and an amazing journey of changing aural soundscapes that is truly engrossing and enjoyable. It takes a dark, sinister twist as Haughm's black metal like vocals kick in after some five minutes and interestingly, the track takes on an almost Type O Negative feel in the latter stages. Falling Snow is fairly upbeat by comparison, in an almost Placebo like manner early on, but it soon makes its stance via the growling snarl of the vocals that layer the almost rock like pace throughout. The contrast of the happy sounding music and the particularly the sombrely sung clean vocals suggest on a more solemn tone making the track sheer bliss to listen to. In fact, that can be said about the entire album really.
The short interlude titled This White Mountain On Which You Will Die provides a haunting passageway that ushers the listener into the awesome Fire Above, Ice Below which has a start that is ever so slightly reminiscent of Twilight Of The Gods era Bathory thanks to the doomy, gentle acoustic intro to what is the album's longest song. This beautifully epic number, clocking in at ten and a half minutes, is truly engrossing as it builds to a dramatic conclusion that then drifts effortlessly into the sounds of crashing waves. With the scene set for Not Unlike The Waves, Agalloch continue with yet another excellent display of contrasting styles from gentle acoustics to monstrous distortion with matching vocal dynamics from Haughm's soothing clean vocals to his snarled, black metal bite. The album rounds out with a massive three part epic, not unlike that of She Painted Fire Across The Skyline which opened up proceedings on their 1999 debut Pale Folklore, titled Our Fortress Is Burning...I, II - Bloodlands and III - The Grain. Vocals are sparse throughout this epic trilogy and the music speaks volumes carrying you through varying degrees of heaviness and melody that ultimately brings this amazing album to a close.
What more can I say at this point? This album is complex yet straight forward and heavy yet melodic. There are many different sides to Agalloch; something that they have professed since day one. Ashes Against The Grain is an outstanding release and should easily be in many people's Top 10 of 2006 list.
(The End Records/Stomp Distribution)